God's Plan for History
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[Note: 19:1-10 represents the hymnic finale to the previous section - as Roloff correctly points out (pp. 209ff) - and deserves separate consideration (cf. report from "AJ").
These concluding chapters constitute - following Roloff's structural arrangement - two foci: a) the consummation of God's plan for history (19:11-22:5) and b) a formal denouement (22:6-21) as counterpart to the book's beginning at chapter 1. This report addresses only "a" of this structural arrangement. For "b", the formal denouement, cf. report from "SR".]
The post-hymnic conclusion (is it a postlude?) is divided into four sub-parts: A) 19:11-21 (Jesus' return as the judge of the world); B) 20:1-10 (establishment of the promised/yearned-for messianic kingdom); C) 20:11-15 (resurrection of the dead and the judgment of the world; and D) 21:1-22:5 (salvation's consummation and God's new world ).
A) 19:11-21: we have noted throughout our study that traditional schemata from Jewish apocalyptic have been the writer's conversation partners throughout the composition; yet, at every juncture new angles of vision have emerged, to wit: the interpretive meaning of Jesus' cross and resurrection has stamped the whole. This angle of vision reaches its crescendo in 19:11ff.
While this starting point was set forth earlier in the throne-room scene (cf. 5:1-14) and probably in the pursuit drama (ch. 12), it would seem that a direct and active role for Jesus in the final battle - apart perhaps from the "like a son of man" reference in 14:14ff - has been reserved for this role of sovereign judge in 19:11ff. Echoing the opening vision of the resurrected One in ch. 1, this is the One who indeed determines finally the future of the world! To build on Roloff's careful synthesis (p. 215), this determination of the future is understood as an extension of the hidden drama of his own cosmic durability ("overcoming") in the "overcoming" of his angeled-oikos under fire (cf. chs. 12-19:1-10 and esp. early references to "temple" and "holy place"). To draw on Mark 13:34-37, we have here a picture of the oikos whose "kyrios" has returned and life is lived in the oneness of God's intention.
As God speaks and it comes to pass in the creation story (cf. Roloff p. 218 for a contrast to Jn. 1:1-4), so too here in the final battle scene truth and holiness thrust themselves from the mouth of the Holy One who is worthy (cf. 5:12) into historical existence from history's inception to the "now" of the eschatological hour (time?) and the evil (untruthful, unholy) origins of anti-God rebellion were (cf. aor. [divine?] passive " ejblhvqhsan" 19:20) thrown "alive" (i.e. not having been allowed to "die" in any sense, while the rest = the "deceived worshipers" of them do??) into "the lake of fire." What has been closed, hidden from view has now been disclosed: the One who rode into Jerusalem now rides again for righteousness' sake in the company of the heavenly host (Roloff, p. 217 sees here the surpassing of the Zechariah 9 "donkey" vision? also, note p. 219 where Roloff does not see the host - in contrast to Jewish apocalyptic - as co-warriors).
Roloff makes a poignant statement: the battle is over before it ever had begun (p. 220). Is there a theological connection here to the mysterious interaction at all levels in the Gethsemane scene in Mk. 14:32ff? Is it God's way to establish "dominion" not - as Roloff says p. 221 - as "the satisfaction of vindictiveness" but "to make this earth into a place for [God's] saving reign"?
B) 20:1-10 reads at first glance like a re-run, some kind of interpretive insert or interlude; after
all, v. 10 picks up on the statement already made in 19:20. There we noted (above) the problem created by the statement "alive" and asked why for the "two" in contrast to "the rest." Roloff rehearses the history of "chiliastic" hermeneutics among the interpreters of Revelation in insightful overview (pp. 223ff); there is no need, therefore, to repeat it here. It is likely, as his commentary develops, that the writer is in pointed conversation with particular Jewish apocalyptic traditions, especially those in dialogue with Ezekiel 37-48. Revelation joins the debate. The question is: why? If 20:1-10 was the answer, what was the question? This matter reminds one somewhat of the question of "Holy Saturday" and the descensus ad feros (cf. I Peter 3:19 & 4:6), i.e. what was Jesus the Crucified "doing" between Good Friday and Easter morning? As Goppelt, in his commentary on I Peter, observes a Christian dialogue with the Enoch tradition of the descent into the underworld in the redemptive drama of salvation in the latter, it is likely that we have here a similar kind of dialogue, only here the question pertains to the why of the permitted "aliveness" of evil in another "place" and the consequences for the earth as the context for evil's (former) deceit. In the subsequent section of 20:11ff Revelation breaks off its dialogue with Ezekiel in its independent statement development.
So why does the writer maintain this view of an interim reign, a view that goes beyond the rest of the New Testament, with the possible exception on I Peter?
As we have said throughout the course and our study of this genre we are confronted with what has been called in German a "Grenzaussage," a statement that is on the periphery of what human beings have any business talking about. Its purview and content go beyond human reason and speech (cf. the way that Paul resorts time and again to doxological responses when he poses "questions on the periphery" in Romans 9-11). In the extreme is at stake the question the God's relationship to history AND the world/earth as the oikos-habitat of the Creator's creatures (cf. the covenant with Noah and all the inhabitants of the ark as earthling co-heirs of the rainbow covenant in Genesis 9). God is not about to give up on the earth. In a kind of eschatological imagination the writer sees this "interlude" (?) as a stage along the way of God's redeeming that which is God's; no one and no thing will take it from God (does one hear the echoes of Romans 8 here, esp. vv. 19ff and31ff?). The world shall not be eliminated but made new! Roloff's overview insights on pp. 225f regarding the writer's resistance to temporal and other forms of speculation are instructive. As in the promise of 3:21 the angels of the churches and all who share in the address of the resurrected One also share in that One's reign, the "kyrios" and the "douloi" are one.
C) 20:11-15 fits in some ways onto the conclusion of ch. 19, obviating structurally the necessity for the insert of 20:1-10. We saw above the possible reasons for the insert. Roloff recounts some of the good reasons for the brevity and tenseness of this judgment scene. It revisits the throne room scene of chs. 4-5 and the necessity (Gr. "dei/" [chs. 1, 4, 17, 21, 22] and generally "avna,gkh" [not used in Rev.]) for the judgment toward which the earlier chapters have been pointing (cf. chs. 6, 8, 11, and 14). Similarly, the vision of God upon the throne and not simply the throne itself is prepared by the references to white as God's holiness, which also has had pointed preparation (cf. chs. 2, 3, 4, 7, and 19). Surprising at first is the declaration that earth and heaven must flee from this sight: the created order has to "fall back into nothing" (Roloff p. 231; Gr. "ajpoV tou~ proswvpou evjfugen"); yet, an echo may be heard from the Jesus tradition (Mt. 24:35; cf. also Isa. 51:6) here: "heaven and earth shall pass away..."
Regarding the "books" Roloff suggests that they were opened by "angels" (p. 231), but one wonders if this is not a divine passive and a reference to the place of the "lamb" since the resurrected One as judge is not expressly mentioned here at all. Roloff asserts that "Christ participates in the judgment...a fundamental conviction of primitive Christianity...", but does not otherwise locate this in the text. While the first book echoes a perspective of Jewish apocalyptic, the second, as the Book of Life, is a specifically Christian tradition (here in Revelation 3, 13, 17, 20, 21 and Phil. 4:3; Lk. 10:20; Heb. 12:23. cf. Roloff, p. 231). Another surprising feature is that Death and Hades (as demonic creations?) are themselves (or a composite "itself"?) are thrown into the lake of fire; the "place" (hypostatized being?) must die!
Roloff sees v. 15 as a warning that does not invite theoretical speculation, but assures of God's promise of free election "of which in Christ one may be certain (cf. 1:5)" (Roloff, p. 232).
D) 21:1ff represents perhaps Revelation's most famous section. Generations of Christians have found comfort here - along with the 23rd Psalm - at the grave side. Unfortunately, the breadth and depth of the vision of God's new thing is often missed in the focus upon the personal resolution to grief in the funeral context. The cosmic dimensions of this vision are staggering to the imagination, of the "eye has not seen, ear has not heard..." variety of I Corinthians 2:9! Roloff notes well that the terseness of the judgment scene is supplanted here with expansive portrayal (p. 233).
Sharing an angle of vision reminiscent of the prayer of Jesus in Jn. 17 for oneness between God, himself, and the ones belonging to him, this picture of the new world is indeed an oikos-marriage of the first order between Creator and creatures of God's redeeming. Wedded are also numerous images of a godly future envisaged by Jewish apocalyptic (cf. Roloff, pp. 233ff). There are really two visions here: the first in vv. 1-8 and the second in vv. 9 - 22:5; the latter in many respects is a cropped picture of the former allowing the redeemed oikos of God's salvation to come into focus as the city of God, the new Jerusalem. The direct address of God from the throne (is Roloff correct when he understands the first voice to be that on an angel? p. 234) as well as its content is - as regards density and directness - without parallel in the New Testament, with the possible exception of the Book of Hebrews with its "God said" quotations. Particular Old Testament prophetic and Jewish apocalyptic texts are the writer's conversation partners in associating God's new creation with the new Jerusalem (cf. Roloff, pp. 235f). Conjoined with this image is that of the bride of the Lamb, which John the seer places undoubtedly in juxtaposition to the previous images of the great city Babylon and the seductive, deceiving harlot in ch. 17. As Roloff points out (p. 236), Babylon's idols are those of political and economic power; the redeemed creatures of God's house live their lives at the center of God's new world and draw their life from God alone! God dwells (Gr. " skhnovw;skh~no"") with these householders in immediate proximity and directness; hence, emerges not only the new world but the new humanity encompassing all people (and what of the animals?). Mortal life and its travail is over. With poignancy Roloff says of God's command to write (cf. in contrast to 19:9) of the new creation:
"...the announcement of the new creation is the purpose toward which God's plan for history, fulfilled through Christ, was directed [cf. the Gethsemane reference above? JEA]. With some justification one could say that v. 5a is the central key verse of the entire book. The acts of God's self-assertion and accomplishment over against the old world and its history...in the end serve only to anticipate the final demonstration of God's creative power and his sovereignty over history, namely, the creation of a new world, wholly in conformity to him, in which only his saving will rules" (p. 237.)
Here the sovereignty of God in 1:8 is revisited; here the free-gift nature of the saving water of life echoing Isa. 55:1 lifts up the common Christian understanding that deliverance comes not from human works but from the "work" of God's love in Christ. "Sonship" (Gr. "uiJo"" cf. "uiJoqesiva") is not gender specific and is used here (v. 7) as an inheritance technical term. The catalogue of vices in v. 8 (cf. similarly I Cor. 6:9-11 and Gal. 5:19-21 and elsewhere) represents a heightened restatement in a parenetic direction of the redemptive warning in 20:15.
Then in 21:9-22:5 the picture is seen again in blow-up enlargement, another re-run as it were. The bride, the wife of the Lamb, the holy city Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God and now is described in terms of wall and gate measurements etc. that are architecturally symmetrical and perfect; similar is the purity of the building material (cf. the Hellenistic-Jewish and Palestinian-Jewish comparative texts cited by Roloff, p. 244). The absence of a temple, of darkness (cf. Isa. 60:3-6) because of the constant shining light of God's glory, and of anything that is not holy are conspicuous features. Perhaps in conversation with Ezekiel 47:1-12 and also the view of the house of God in the north for Enoch is the presence of verdancy as depicted by flowing water and the prominence of trees. Here not only fruit but also leaves for the healing of the nations brings the viewer back to Eden and beyond to a new scope for salvation through the work of Christ. For Roloff this means: "The consummation of salvation distinguishes itself from the paradise of primordial time in that the temptation through evil powers that brings death in the latter will not be repeated" (p. 246).
And there is no mistaking the focus of the final vision: the throne of God and of the Lamb are at the center and the householders of this place behold this One face to face in contradistinction to the dictum of Exodus 33:20 "see God and die!"
[supplemental additions from Bousset, Schlatter, and Lohse are forthcoming].
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